Explore America's park logoSome urban parks are a spot of green in a landscape of gray concrete and steel, the only spot for blocks and blocks with trees and grass. Atlanta has lots of trees. All over the city. Yet thousands are drawn to Piedmont Park every day. And while there are spots to sit in the shade and listen to the birds (over the constant drone of automobile traffic), this is a park where people come to do stuff: run, walk, skate, play kickball or tennis.

 

This place is part park, part town square. The site for dozens of major gatherings over the course of a year from festivals to summer movies to concerts to one of the nation’s biggest 10K road races.

 

History

Atlanta’s Gentlemen’s Driving Club in 1887 bought 189 acres north of downtown for an exclusive club and racing ground for horse enthusiasts. The property was the site of the Piedmont Exposition of 1887 and the Cotton States and International Exposition of 1895.

 

The city bought the land for a city park and in 1909 hired the Olmsted Brothers — pre-eminent landscape architects of the time and the sons of Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Central Park in New York City — to draft a master plan for the park. While the Olmsted plan has never been fully realized, the current master plan, adopted by the city of Atlanta and Piedmont Park Conservancy in 1995, honors the original vision for the park.

 

Things to do

The path system here makes it easy to put together a walk or run of two miles or more. Some paths are paved and open to skaters, making it one of the rare spots in the city where you can skate in a car-free environment.

 

An aquatic center provides a place to swim laps for exercise or simply splash around for fun.

 

The Piedmont Dog Park — one of the first dog parks in the center city — provides three acres for dogs to frolic off-leash. There are two areas: one for large dogs and one for smaller dogs.

 

The park also has two regulation crushed granite bocce courts.

 

Why you’ll want to come back

A fallow, kudzu-choked portion of the park is now open to exploration, part of a recently completed 53-acre expansion of Piedmont Park. The newly opened area contains an old growth forest, a wetland area, new meadows and Legacy Fountain, which features more than 70 jets, reaching up to 30 feet in the air and an LED light show.

 

An additional 15 acres is expected to open after renovation is complete next year.

 

Flora and fauna

The open lawns, forests and 11.5-acre lake within Piedmont Park attract more than 175 species of birds, including the brown thrasher, the Georgia state bird. Other birds spotted in the park include great blue herons and killdeer, nuthatches and cardinals. 

 

By the numbers

  • Website: www.piedmontpark.org
  • Park size: 211 acres
  • 2010 visitation: 3.5 million
  • Funky fact: The Atlanta Crackers, Atlanta's first professional baseball team, played in the park from 1902 to 1904.
 
This is part of Explore America's Parks, a series of user's guides to national, state and local park systems across the United States. We'll be adding new parks all summer, so check back for more.
 

Inset photo of dog at Piedmont Dog Park: thinkingjosh/Flickr